Iowa Man Convicted of Murder in 1979 Stabbing of High School Student

Jerry Burns listens as defense attorney Leon Spies delivers his closing arguments in his trial at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport on Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. Burns is charged with first-degree murder in the stabbing death of Michelle Martinko in 1979. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette via AP)

(DAVENPORT, Iowa) — More than 40 years after an 18-year-old high school student’s body was found outside an Iowa shopping mall, jurors Monday convicted a man of murder in her death.

It took jurors about three hours to convict Jerry Burns, 66, of first-degree murder in the Dec. 19, 1979, stabbing death of Michelle Martinko, 18. After searching for hours, police found her body in the early morning hours in her parent’s Buick parked outside a Cedar Rapids shopping mall.

Her lungs and aorta were pierced, and she lost about a third of her blood, according to testimony.

Burns didn’t testify, and his defense called only one witness.

Police arrested Burns on Dec. 19, 2018, at his Manchester, Iowa, business — the 39th anniversary of Martinko’s death. Burns was linked to the crime by DNA evidence that indicated he was at the scene of her killing.

During the trial, prosecutors displayed Martinko’s black, bloodstained dress draped over a mannequin.

Families of both Burns and Martinko cried when the verdict was read.

In a statement, Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman credited officers and investigators for tenacity and dedication in making an arrest.

“For Michelle’s family and friends, we know that the pain of losing a daughter, sister, or friend will never go away,” Jerman said. “You and Michelle will forever be in our thoughts and we are eternally grateful for your support, trust, and confidence over the many years.”

The trial was moved to Scott County District Court in Davenport because of pretrial publicity in Cedar Rapids.

Sentencing will be held later. In Iowa, first-degree murder carries a mandatory term of life in prison.

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